SAN DIEGO — Kicking off the tenth edition of Ingram Micro Cloud Summit, Microsoft’s channel chief proclaimed one of her company’s products the most significant opportunity for Microsoft partners. And her choice is a bit of a dark horse.
Considering the Microsoft cloud story includes such heavyweights as its Azure cloud application platform and its Office 365 productivity suite writ large, it might be a bit of a surprise that Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president of Microsoft One Commercial Partner group, proclaimed the company’s Teams collaboration software as the “single biggest opportunity” for the company’s partners over the next year.
Teams, Microsoft’s offering for real-time collaboration through chat, telephony, and more, competes in the growing sphere for modern collaboration tools, competing with the likes of Slack and Cisco’s similarly-named WebEx Teams. Perhaps it’s a bit of Schuster and Redmond seeking a self-fulfilling prophesy as it looks for its next product to “get the rockets strapped on it” in terms of market growth in the channel, the way it has done with many major products over the years. But Schuster also makes a case based on the changing way that businesses collaborate in 2019.
Another major factor in the rise of Teams is the changing way customers use collaboration tools.
“We expect that a year from now, customers will spend 50 percent of their time in a Teams environment,” Schuster told Cloud Summit attendees.
And that time may be coming from time traditionally spent in another Microsoft collaboration tool — its longstanding Outlook e-mail, calendar, and contacts application. Since its introduction in 1997, Outlook has probably been the application most identified as the place where knowledge workers “live” in their day-to-day work. But based on Schuster’s comments at Cloud Summit, Microsoft is okay with its users making the switch to the newer Teams collaboration paradigm.
“We introduced Outlook a long time ago, and business looked different than it does today,” she said. “Today, customers expect they can access anyone, anywhere, anytime. Today, customers expect they can access anyone, anywhere, at any time. And Teams is the environment for them to do that.”
While Teams comes pre-loaded with access to chat, telephony, and users’ contents and contacts, Schuster said partners’ big opportunity with the application is bringing in both services that support the move to Teams, in the form of managed services and change management services, and in building on “new applications and experiences” to Teams. Schuster added that customers might not even know they want those new services as part of their Teams environment, but that solution providers can use their combination of industry skills, knowledge of customer care-abouts and understanding of available tools to create new offerings that drive customer value.
“You can pull in all the value of Microsoft 365, pull in all of those Office add-ins, all of those business processes. That is your single biggest opportunity,” Schuster said.
It’s evidence of the way she says Microsoft is shifting its view on how it partners “from partnering to partnership.”
In the past — the world of “partnering” in Schuster’s parlance, the value chain was pretty simple. Microsoft makes software, puts in a box, ships it to distributors, and a variety of resellers do the “last thousand miles” of integration to meet customers’ needs and fit into their environments.
But in a cloud world, Schuster says the equation changes to more “true partnerships,” where everyone in the supply chain, from Microsoft as vendor to the customer as end user, with distributors and resellers in between, all provide continuous value to each other — both down and up the supply chain — based on adding more functionality and evolving services.
“It’s a three-dimensional, always-on relationship amongst Microsoft, Ingram, the reseller and the customer, all continually working on delivering value to each other,” Schuster said. “It changes the nature of our relationship.”
It means that Microsoft can no longer ship products and leave it in the hands of resellers and customers, but while Redmond has to be more hands-on, it also means that Microsoft is more dependent on partners than ever.
“We’re part of the delivery cycle, tied to what you deliver in the market, and we have to have an incredibly trusted relationship because we’re part of the services we’re delivering all the way through to the customer’s customers,” Schuster told attendees. “We couldn’t do this alone. We’re counting on every layer of that stack to add value to what that customer wants to do, to make it a differentiated experience.”
Schuster rounded out her presentation with an update on the Azure partnership with Ingram’s CloudBlue cloud platform division. The pair announced at last year’s Cloud Summit that Ingram would move its cloud platform to the Azure stack as part of its re-brand as CloudBlue, among other ways the two companies would work together more closely.
Schuster said that over the last ten months, partners have added “more than 30 million seats together on the platform” of Microsoft’s various cloud-based offerings.
“It’s been a phenomenal year. Thanks for taking a chance, and for moving forward with cloud services,” she said.